Mark Cavendish says Deceuninck-QuickStep return was the only move he wanted

Mark Cavendish insists his return to Deceuninck-QuickStep is not about finding a fairytale ending to his career but the Manxman wants to keep racing for as long as he can perform at the top level.

Cavendish spent much of last year’s hugely disrupted season fearing his time in the peloton was coming to a close, but now the 35-year-old is back with the team where he won 44 races between 2013 and 2015.

Having gone almost three years since his last victory amid some well-documented struggles, Cavendish knows there will be no repeat of those numbers in his second spell, but his motivations are different.

“If I think I am going to win six stages of the Tour de France I’m in fairyland,” Cavendish said.

“I am a realist. I am not looking to hang on to something or finish my career in any fairytale way. I just know that I’m still good.”

Cavendish spent last year with Bahrain-McLaren but, as the team felt the financial squeeze of the pandemic, he was not offered a new deal.

Amid the uncertainty, a tearful Cavendish wondered if his time was up after Scheldeprijs in October, but said the response to that moment reassured him there was more to come – even if public confirmation of his contract did not come until early December.

“Straightaway, even the same day, I started to receive communications from teams,” Cavendish said. “I could sit and talk about situations and circumstances but ultimately there was really only one place I wanted to come.”

Deceuninck-QuickStep boss Patrick Lefevere was among those to chime in after Scheldeprijs.

The Belgian wrote in a newspaper column that “my heart says yes but my mind says no” on a return for Cavendish, but ultimately, the heart won out.

“I think he deserves to have a good season and not to end like Mr Nobody,” Lefevere said on Wednesday. “With his palmares, his charisma, he deserves a place in the team.”

Cavendish’s role this time around is certain to be different given Deceuninck-QuickStep’s options.

Sat alongside him during Wednesday’s presentation was Sam Bennett, the surprise winner of the green jersey in last year’s Tour as he picked up two stage victories.

The Irishman is targeting a return to the Tour this year alongside the ‘Sprinter’s Classic’ – Milan-Sanremo – early in the season, but knows there is plenty he can learn from a team-mate with 30 Tour stage wins to his name.

“It’s how to approach it mentally and deal with pressure,” Bennett said. “He’s a guy that’s dealt with expectation. He’s a guy, if he came away with two stages in one Grand Tour people would say it’s a bad Grand Tour for him so he set the bar really high for himself.

“So just learn from his experience, his mindframe and how he approaches the big races.”

Bennett is part of a generation of sprinters including Wout van Aert, Caleb Ewan, Dylan Groenewegen, Elia Viviani and others which has been called cycling’s best.

Cavendish is perhaps no longer in their bracket, but his reaction to being asked to assess the competition revealed a man just happy to still be in the peloton.

“I’ve not got a clue what they’re like because I was never close to them in the last year to see!” he joked.

“From a fans’ perspective it’s good. I can tell you from a rider’s perspective, when you’re not in the mix, it’s not so good but hopefully that can change this year.

“Whether I’m sprinting for the win or helping one of the lads win, I’m up for that opportunity right now.”